Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
This is my column that appeared in Arab News on March 16, 2014:
By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh
Moving to Brazil five years ago, one thing that I had to get used to were the speed cameras installed throughout the city of Brasilia. When I left Jeddah there were hardly any Saher cameras to speak of. One could speed around Jeddah and hardly get fined or punished for doing so. No longer. The Jeddah Traffic Department has announced that it is going to install 30 more Saher cameras following a dramatic drop in accidents and violations after the first cameras were installed. Traffic tickets issued to speeding drivers were more than halved during the past two months from 106,000 to 50,000.
There is no doubt that getting hit in the pocket with a fine is a good way to change people’s behavior. The traffic authorities here in Brasilia have long figured that out. Brasilia is now the Brazilian capital of speed cameras, with 650 cameras across the city in 2012. But Brasilia is a unique city, having been planned with long stretches of highways with no traffic lights. The Eixo Monumental is an eight-lane, 16-km long expressway that runs from one end of the city to the other without a single traffic light. For that reason, traffic authorities have installed speed cameras at every 500 meters of the Eixo in order to enforce the 80-km per hour speed limit. In Jeddah, authorities should put many more cameras on Malik Street, which due to its long stretches of road with few traffic lights encourages speedsters to race down it at maniac speeds in their powerful sports cars, putting the lives of all who cross their paths at high risk.
In Brasilia most of the speed cameras are well signaled by signs that warn the area is under electronic surveillance. This has led to residents memorizing where most of the speed cameras are located, leading many to race well above the speed limit in between the speed cameras, and then braking like mad just before reaching a speed camera. This can be quite dangerous when they do that right in front of you when you’re driving at the speed limit. Needless to say that in the first few years that I moved here I received my fair share of speeding tickets, but I must admit that I too have memorized the location of the speed cameras and that has resulted in a dramatic drop in my traffic violations.
In 2011, Brasilia racked in R$30 million (SR47.5 million) in fines just from speed cameras. This has led to much grumbling from the driving public, who have complained that the local government is just using the speed cameras as an easy way of raising money, and that they never use any of that money to launch public awareness campaigns on the dangers of speeding. By law, Brasilia authorities are supposed to use the money from fines to improve the driving culture.
I’m glad that Jeddah authorities are putting in more speed cameras, but that is not the only method that should be used to control bad drivers. Lessons in decent driving culture should start in primary schools and become increasingly sophisticated as students move through the educational system. A sense of public duty, safety awareness and being kind on the road by letting cars cut in ahead of you at busy intersections, would make driving a much safer and more pleasant experience for all of us.